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Like any red-blooded American boy, I have a life long interest in War.  But one war has always proven especially elusive and uninteresting to me, World War One.  Perhaps it is due to the absence of great literature or movies; other than Sergeant York with Gary Cooper, what little art exists is all anti-WWI--the books: Good-bye to All That (Robert Graves), All Quiet on the Western Front (Erich Maria Remarque), & the movies: Paths of Glory, All Quiet on the Western Front, Gallipoli, etc.  Perhaps the senseless slaughter of the trenches is too off-putting.  Perhaps it is simple ambivalence about the cause or our participation.  Whatever the case, it has just never captured my imagination.  So the news that our greatest living Military Historian, John Keegan, was taking a whack at it, raised the possibility that here at last would be the book that would spark the flame of interest.

Alas, despite a yeoman effort by Keegan, who has produced an enormously readable and mercifully brief account that ranges from origins of the war to armaments to battles to politics to consequences, even this was not enough.  In fact, there's a certain sense of noblesse oblige about Keegan's effort.  One senses that he is writing more from a feeling of obligation than of interest or passion.

In his conclusion he says of the war:

    The chronicle of its battles provides the dreariest literature in military history; no brave trumpets
    sound in memory for the drab millions who plodded to death on the featureless plains of Picardy
    and Poland; no litanies are sung for the leaders who coaxed them to slaughter.  The legacy of the
    war's political outcome scarcely bears contemplation:  Europe ruined as a centre of world
    civilisation, Christian kingdoms transformed through defeat into godless tyrannies, bolshevik or
    Nazi, the superficial difference between their ideologies counting not at all in their cruelty to
    common and decent folk.  All that was worst in the century which the First World War had opened,
    the deliberate starvation of peasant enemies of the people by provinces, the extermination of racial
    outcasts, the persecution of ideology's intellectual and cultural hate-objects, the massacre of ethnic
    minorities, the extinction of small national sovereignties, the destruction of parliaments and the
    elevation of commissars, gauletiers and warlords to power over voiceless millions, had its origins in
    the chaos it left behind.

We should be thankful that he has given us the only book we'll ever need to read about this dreariest of all wars.


Grade: (B+)


See also:

Book-related and General Links:
    -Booknotes: A History of Warfare  Author: John Keegan (CSPAN)
    -ARCHIVES : "john keegan" (Daily Telegraph)
    -Forbes Magazine Archive of Keegan Columns
    -REVIEW: of 'Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World' by Margaret MacMillan (John Keegan, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW : of Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan by Herbert P Bix (John Keegan, Daily Telegraph)
    -Think Tank Transcript: "Fields of Battle: The Wars for North America" by John Keegan
    -REAL AUDIO: Keegan on The Learning Channel's War and Civilization series
    -1998 Reith Lectures   War and our World John Keegan.
    -REVIEW : of THE FIRST WORLD WAR  By John Keegan ( Tim Belknap, Business Week)
    -REVIEW: Tools for Destruction, but None for Turning Back (MICHIKO KAKUTANI, NY Times)
    -REVIEW:  (Paul Kennedy: In the Shadow of the Great War, NY Review of Books)
        The First World War by John Keegan
        The Pity of War by Niall Ferguson
    -REVIEW : of The Pity of War by Niall Ferguson and First World War by John Keegan : Was World War I Necessary (Keith Windschuttle, New Criterion)
    -REVIEW : of The Pity of War by Niall Ferguson and The First World War by John Keegan (National Review,  David Gress, National Review)
    -REVIEW : of The Pity of War by Niall Ferguson and First World War by John Keegan (The New Leader,  Roger Draper)
    -REVIEW : of The Pity of War by Niall Ferguson and First World War by John Keegan (RICK HARMON , Oregon Live)
    -REVIEW : of  The First World War (Len Barcousky, Pittsburgh Post-Gazzette)
    -REVIEW : of The First World War , By John Keegan ( Robert A. Pois, Denver Post)
    -REVIEW: of The Face of Battle: Goodbye to All That (NEAL ASCHERSON , NY Review Books)
    -REVIEW: of The Mask of Command: The Art of War (GORDON A. CRAIG, NY Review Books)
    -REVIEW: of The Price of Admiralty: The Grand Decider (GORDON CRAIG, NY Review Books)

    -The Great War  (pbs)
    -Trenches on the Web: An Internet History of The Great War
    -Major Battles of WWI
    -Charles Fair's Battlefield Guide
    -Encyclopaedia of the First World War
    -The major museums of Europe, commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Armistice of 1918
    -LINKS: WAR, PEACE and SECURITY GUIDE: Military history: World War I (1914-1918)
    -The Great War and the Shaping of the 20th Century (PBS)
    -The War Times Journal: The Great War Series
    -The Great War Society
    -REVIEW: Noel Annan: Grand Disillusions, NY Review of Books
       The Generation of 1914 by Robert Wohl
    -REVIEW:   James Joll: No Man's Land, NY Review of Books
       Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age by Modris Eksteins
       The Lost Voices of World War I: An International Anthology of Writers, Poets and Playwrights
       Passion and Rebellion: The Expressionist Heritage
       Frieden für Europa: Die Politik der Deutschen Reichstagsmehrheit 1917-18 by Wilhelm Ribhegge
       German Liberalism and the Dissolution of the Weimar Party System, 1918-1933 by Larry Eugene Jones
    -REVIEW : of 1918: WAR AND PEACE By Gregor Dallas (Jane Ridley, Spectator uk)

Other recommended books by John Keegan:
    -The Face of Battle
    -The Mask of Command
    -The Price of Admiralty: The Evolution of Naval Warfare